If you've ever delved into the realm of cocktails outside simple two-ingredient highballs and other bar drinks, you know what bitters are. Especially if you've made an old-fashioned. They add complexity and depth to any drink. I personally am a huge fan.

Some people say bitters are the salt and pepper of the bar, but they're really more like a spice rack. At least that's what Brad Thomas Parsons says in his book Bitters

However, bitters can be used for more than just cocktails. You can throw them in sodas, use them for cooking, or even use them as a digestive aid. Fun tidbit: my older brother used to mix some bitters in with ginger ale to help my stomach aches when I visited him during college breaks.

I don't know if it's just Blacksburg, but it's hard to find non-standard bitters (aka Angostura Bitters). The only other one I've found is blood orange bitters, and that was at the gourmet food shop here.

Infusion Agents

herb, pepper, condiment, cumin, cereal, relish, chili, cinnamon
Susanna Mostaghim

Bitters are comprised of bitter-tasting plants─known as botanicals─as well as ones that are flavor and aroma intense (so they can be used for infusion blends). As a general rule: use whole ingredients rather than ground. It makes it way easier to strain them out at the end.

#SpoonTip: Chop up or crack your ingredients to increase surface area exposure.

The Blend

Your blend is made of three agents: bitter, flavor, and aromatic. Bitter agents make anywhere between 10-50% of a blend, depending on how intense you want your bitters to be. The rest is made of your aromatic and flavoring agents. Cocktail Bitters has a good guide on how to formulate your blend. You can buy these agents easily from Mountain Rose Herbs or Kalustyan's.

Aromatic and flavoring agents can come from five different categories: spices, herbs and flowers, fruits, nuts, and beans. You can find lists of common agents at The Kitchn. Another good reference is The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart.

Other Ingredients

coffee, espresso
Lucy Carlisle


For bitters you want to use a high-proof liquor. And when I say "high-proof," I mean at least 100 proof (50% alcohol volume). This typically comes in the form of vodka or whiskey. You'll get the most neutral flavor from using Everclear or a cheap vodka.

However, you could always try to make bitters with whiskeys (and bourbons) or rums that are 101-proof. Or, if you're feeling really risky, use Bacardi 151.

Additional Add-Ins

If you're not fond of things that are too bitter, you can sweeten your bitters. Because alcohol itself goes down pretty hard, sweet bitters are common. Traditional sweeteners include: simple syrup, caramel, molasses, and honey. It's also common practice to dilute your bitters with distilled water, bringing the alcohol content down.


jam, sweet, tea, marmalade, gelatin
Susanna Mostaghim

There are two main methods for infusing your bitters. The first is to combine all of your botanicals and infuse them in liquor together. The other method is to make a separate infusion (or tincture, if we're being technical) of each agent and then blend them to taste.

I would recommend the second method unless you have a really good recipe you're following. You don't want to accidentally overpower one of the flavors you're using. Depending on the plant, the necessary time for infusion varies from a day to a couple weeks. Smell the tinctures regularly. It's ready when it strongly resembles the smell of the ingredient.

#SpoonTip: If you infuse them separately, you have more control over the final flavor of the outcome.


beer, tea, coffee
Susanna Mostaghim

There's always equipment involved with any form of cooking. However, when it comes to alcohol it always pays to be prepared and know all the stuff you need ahead of time. Of course you're going to need your measuring tools, like cups, spoons, and (if you want to be exact) a kitchen scale.

But to prep your infusing agents you're going to need to have a cutting board and knife at the very least. It does help to have a zester/fine grater and a peeler to cut and peel your fruit to allow for infusion. If you don't want to use a knife, a mortar and pestle is pretty useful for increasing the surface area of your ingredients.

However, all that stuff is just for prep. Now you can infuse your agents in any container that's air-tight. I personally prefer mason jars, mostly because I always have them on hand for homemade jam or to organize my kitchen. You'll probably want something to label them with. I usually do so I don't forget what I put in them.

Finally, you're going to need a fine mesh strainer (a coffee filter works too, though) for removing the solid plant matter from your infusions. In order to blend the flavors precisely, I'd recommend using a pipette or dropper before your funnel your infusions into clean glass bottles.

Quantities & Measurements

tea, liquor, wine, alcohol, ice
Susanna Mostaghim

Vinepair recommends using 1 to 2 teaspoons per 4 oz alcohol for each infusion. This is specifically done if you're making each infusion separately. Just make sure at least one infusion has a bitter agent. If you want to get technical, there are weight to volume ratios for the plants you're using: 1 part dried agent to 5 parts liquor or 1 part fresh agent to 2 parts liquor.

Homemade Bitters

  • Prep Time:7 days
  • Cook Time:0
  • Total Time:7 days
  • Servings:1
  • Easy


  • bitter agents
  • aroma agents
  • flavor agents
  • high-proof liquor
  • distilled water optional
  • sweetener optional
beer, wine, liquor
Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 1

    Place agents (chopped or cracked for more surface area exposure) in separate jars and label.

    herb, pepper, condiment, cumin, cereal, relish, chili, cinnamon
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 2

    Cover each agent with 4 oz liquor. Make sure they're completely submerged and sealed.

    tea, liquor, wine, alcohol, ice
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 3

    Shake jar once a day (seriously, make the jar look like it's head banging).

    chocolate, ice, beer
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 4

    Wait for agents to infuse. Regularly smell and sample each infusion. To smell: put a couple drops in your palms, rub them together, and hold your hands up to your nose. To taste: put a couple drops in a glass of water.

    tea, wine, coffee, alcohol, liquor, beer
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 5

    Strain each infusion so the solid matter is removed. If your fine mesh strainer isn't enough, use a coffee filter.

    wine, oil
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 6

    Using a dropper or pipette, blend the different tinctures together in a small glass bottle. This is also when you would dilute or sweeten your mixture. Try blending by using the technique from step 4.

    beer, coffee
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 7

    Let sit for a few days to weeks for the flavors to combine.

    beer, wine, liquor
    Susanna Mostaghim
  • Step 8

    Transfer to clean bottles and store.

    Susanna Mostaghim